SC soars past No. 6 GE
SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The spotlight was shining squarely on the South Charleston Community Center Thursday night, and the host Black Eagles stole the show.
In more ways than one.
Junior A.D. Cunningham was whirr of activity, turning in 17 points, six rebounds and eight steals as South Charleston ran roughshod over Greenbrier East 67-41 in a matchup of Class AAA ranked teams and championship contenders.
SC bounced back nicely from a 77-60 loss to Woodrow Wilson in Saturday's Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game.
The visiting Spartans (19-3), tied for sixth in the state, were forced into a whopping 28 turnovers - 22 of those SC steals. Nine different Black Eagles had at least one swipe and 10 of SC's 29 baskets came immediately following thefts.
"To me, we just played hard,'' said SC coach Vic Herbert. "It was obvious they didn't want to be guarded like we were guarding them.''
West Virginia University coach Bob Huggins was expected to be in attendance on Thursday, but did not make the trip. However, there was still a buzz of anticipation in the house and Marshall assistant coach Mark Cline was on hand to watch, most likely to see Spartans junior guard Rondale Watson, one of the state's top talents and a player of the year candidate.
"They're loaded with individual talent,'' Herbert said, "as with as athletic as a few of their guys are - especially their two guards - that's pretty impressive to take the ball like we did. Our on-ball pressure was just tremendous. Giving up 41 points to those guys - we did a good job defensively.''
After entering the game averaging 22.4 points, Watson was held to 11 on 3-of-9 shooting. He did turn in seven rebounds, five assists and a nasty tip-dunk following a teammate's missed shot. He was guarded straight up most of the night by SC senior Trevond Reese.
Watson had a lot of company for East, which shot only 32.6 percent overall, including a 6 of 24 efforts on 3-pointers.
"When you've got your leading scorer with 11 points, that's not much,'' said Greenbrier East coach Jim Justice. "It was just one of those things. We just don't see that kind of performance from us day in and day out, that's for sure.
"Cohesion-wise, probably the last three weeks, we just haven't had the glue, the cohesion together we needed. When you're not giving your big man touches, you're missing your 3-point shots, you're out there on the floor trying to make some kind of pass and can't get it to them - you get too many turnovers.''
East hung around for a long time, trailing just 29-23 at halftime and was still within 35-32 midway into the third quarter. That's when SC went on a quick 10-0 run, including two more baskets following steals.
That made it 45-32 and East was never again within 10 points. Devyn Harris added four thefts and Hunter Moles three for No. 3-ranked South Charleston (19-2).
"When the wheels come off, they come off away from home,'' Justice said, "and you're playing a good team that's coming off a big loss to Woodrow Wilson. They got romped on and everything. They were ready to play and we just weren't.''
Moles also provided an offensive spark for SC with 12 points against East's unusual man-to-man defense, in which 6-foot-9 Obi Romeo doesn't venture outside the foul lane if his man is stationed on the perimeter. Thus, Moles was left wide open on several occasions and knocked down three baskets in SC's third-quarter surge.
"I remember that from last year at Greenbrier East,'' Moles said. "They did the same thing and I didn't play with a lot of confidence. So tonight I just wanted to come out and play with some confidence. I thought they might do that just because they like to keep him in the paint. My teammates trusted me and I hit some shots down, and it worked for us.''
Romeo also had a slam-dunk for the Spartans and finished with four points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. East led in rebounding 32-31.
SC concludes the regular season on Saturday at Wheeling Park.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.